Guatimala or the United Provinces of Central America in 1827-8/12
Religious Processions,—Masked Dancers,—Clergy, regular and secular,—Ecclesiastical Quarrels,—Low State of true Piety,—Extracts from Journal.
Under the head of amusements, rather than devotional exercises, ought to be classed those numerous and splendid processions which claim so frequently the time and reverence of all classes of the community in catholic countries. In Guatimala scarcely a day passes without some one or other of these pageants inviting the attention of the devout, and the laugh of the scorner. A slight account of the celebrated one termed Corpus will enable the reader to judge of the rest.
This takes place in the month of June; and on the day set apart for the festivity, the shops are closed, and business suspended. About ten o'clock the cavalcade moves from the cathedral. A troop of military marching to a slow tune lead the way, and are followed by six of the finest Indian girls that can be procured, bearing large wax candles, and dressed in the ancient costume of their tribes, accompanied by the great drum carried on the back of an Indian, and beaten by two others. These are succeeded by men bearing on their shoulders wooden platforms, on which are placed images of saints. Other representations of beatified cardinals and bishops follow, escorted by angels with spreading wings. Then succeeds an immense statue of St. Peter bearing the keys, and supported by angels on each side. Other images pass forward in succession and immediately precede the Host, which is carried under a splendid canopy, and accompanied by the archbishop and the dignified clergy. The various orders of friars, the curas and the collegial students in their robes follow, and fresh images of saints and angels, with a new troop of military bring up the rear.
Proceeding round the Plaza, the procession stops at every corner, where are erected at considerable expense large altars, covered with artificial flowers, looking-glasses, and wax candles; while thousands of kneeling spectators form a deep line on either side. Its setting out and return to the cathedral are notified by frequent discharges of sky-rockets, and the houses by which the host passes are hung with red cloth or silk.
By these ridiculous, yet dazzling shows, the church of Rome firmly attaches to her interests a superstitious and ignorant mob, and still reaps new benefits from that artful policy by which her Jesuitical children led nations captive, and arrived at a degree of power and influence obnoxious and dangerous to their haughty parent. On the imagination of the simple Indians these splendid spectacles take a powerful hold, uniting, as many of them do, several of the heathenish rites of their ancient superstitions, with the showy ritual of a corrupted Christianity.
Walking through the streets one day, I was painfully surprised to observe a large statue of the Saviour borne on a platform by four men, and accompanied by ten or a dozen wretches grotesquely dressed and as absurdly masked, who were dancing before it in order to excite the mirth of the populace. It seemed to me a melancholy fulfilment of the prophetic declaration, “He is become the laugh of the drunkard, and the sport of fools.” But such is the temporising, and worldly spirit of this Babylon of the nations, that the only reply I could get from one of her worthiest ministers to an indignant remonstrance was, “We do not approve it, but it is necessary to give life to the festivity!”
Perhaps there is no country in the world where religious processions are so numerous, or the great mass of the people so fanatical as in Guatimala. Always distinguished for its rigid attention to the ceremonies of the church: it now stands pre-eminent. In Buenos Ayres, Columbia, and Peru, the revolution has in this respect affected an important change; and even in Mexico, where the power of the clergy is still considerable, its superstitious frenzy is considerably repressed. But here every thing remains the same as before, not a priest has been ejected, or a friar displaced; and although their temporal influence has been somewhat lessened, their spiritual authority remains undiminished.
Asingular proof of their power to influence the decrees of the government has just been given. In July 1826, the supreme government, in imitation of the other republics, passed a law fixing the age at which young people should be permitted to enter the religious houses. The clergy resisted the enforcement of it, and in Sept. 1827, the present party, by a ridiculous decree in which they contradict every statement they had previously made, have abrogated the former law, and mere children are again permitted to immolate themselves for life.
In number they are fewer in proportion to the population than in Mexico, and this circumstance may, in some measure, have contributed to their security. From a statement issued by the government, it appears that there are not more than 300 friars in the United Provinces, of whom about 200 reside inthe city; while the different female convents do not contain more than 150 nuns. Of the secular clergy no census has been published. Although considerably more numerous than the regular they bear no proportion to the clerical body of Mexico, nor does there exist amongst them that enormous disparity of revenue which Humboldt describes as disgracing the church in New Spain. The peculiar privileges of the ecclesiastical courts remain untouched. The archbishop still has the power of punishing his clergy by confinement, and although for crimes against society or the state, a priest may be judged by the civil courts, no punishment can be inflicted without the consent of the archbishop, to whom he is delivered.
In political matters the body is at the present moment somewhat divided. The disputes with the state of St. Salvador are intimately connected with the claim of a Dr. Delgado to a bishopric, and although by far the greater majority cleave to the archbishop, and the decisions of the court of Rome, still there are a few stubborn dissentients who have placed themselves out of the reach of ecclesiastical discipline.
The friars as a body still live in hope of the re-conquest of the country by Spain, and the consequent re-establishment of their influence. I was much amused to observe the earnestness and mysterious shrug with which one of the old fathers inquired the latest news from Europe when we visited his convent, where we found him busily employed in reading a volume of Ivanhoe, and I doubt not devoutly wishing that the happy days of darkness there depicted might once more return, and Friar Tuck and his Britannic Majesty again be bosom friends. A report had been circulated in the city, that a Spanish expedition was preparing in the Havanna, and his tottering limbs seemed to derive new strength from the rumour. It was evident enough that he thought Spain the most powerful empire of the world, although policy obliged him in great measure to conceal his opinions.
The controversy before alluded to, between the two provinces with respect to the right of appointing a bishop, threatens to strike a fatal blow at the influence of the church. In Salvador its effects are plainly visible in the almost universal infidelity which prevails, and among the middle classes of Guatimala the same epidemic malady is rapidly spreading. The spiritual part of the controversy commenced when the people of San Salvador, claiming their right to create a bishopric, appointed Dr. Delgado to the office. The archbishop of Guatimala declaring the appointment to be a privilege of Rome, refused to own his new brother, and appealed to the Pope.
A paper war immediately commenced, one party attacked, and the other defended. In an amusing pamphlet, Father José Andres, after denying the right of any government to interfere with the spiritualities or secularities of the church, denounces San Salvador as an infamous adultress, denies the power of the new bishop to absolve from sin, or to administer the sacraments, assures the inferior clergy that as God scattered the tribes of Israel who separated themselves from the house of David, so surely would he destroy those who separated themselves from their lawful bishop, and calls upon the people to come out from the tabernacles of these impious men, lest they be involved in their sins. He insists that the tithes of San Salvador, are due to the church of Guatimala, and says they who withhold them, rob not man but God; concluding with many assurances that money is of little value when compared with the prayers and intercessions of their lawful spiritual advisers. To this Dr. Cañas replies in another pamphlet, and the worthy friar returns again to the field with fresh vigour, and fulminates new anathemas against the self elected bishop. He reminds him of the heavy punishment inflicted upon Ham the son of Noah, for despising an earthly parent, and argues that if his punishment were heavy, much more severe will be the lot of those who despise their spiritual parent the Pope.
In the midst of these disputes the march of infidelity began to be perceived by some of the clergy. An earnest address to the clerical body both regular and secular was published by three priests, in which after lamenting the prevailing spirit among the people, to penetrate into mysteries, and both in public and in private to ridicule the dogmas of religion, they call upon their brethren to exert themselves with fresh vigour, and unitedly to oppose the new doctrine. These efforts have however produced little effect in arresting the progress of the contagion, which is rapidly spreading far and wide. San Salvador, at present in a state of complete anarchy, sends forth a weekly newspaper in which the authority of the pope, the celibacy of the clergy, and monastic institutions are openly ridiculed, and quotations from Voltaire striking at the root of all religion, are constantly inserted.
In the midst of these ominous events, the archbishop under the influence of that infatuation which so frequently clings to men in desperate circumstances, has threatened to excommunicate all who obey the new bishop, and has published a violent sermon in defence of the Pope. A few extracts may not be uninteresting. In the dedication to the most holy father Leo XII. the archbishop, after rejoicing in the zeal with which his holiness has defended the rights of the chair of St. Peter, adds, “We pray that holy apostle that he may obtain from God for you long life and tranquil times, and that you may see all this new world ever in your fold, and may augment the number of those sheep which Christ has commended to you as his vicar on earth, to lead and guide to heaven.” The sermon commences by an address to the clergy urging them to zeal in these troublous times, and to keep firm in their obedience to the holy see. This preliminary exhortation concludes thus, “behold then the necessity of being within the divine bark of the fisherman, lest we make shipwreck of the faith and become the plaything of the waves, or the unhappy victims of piratical mariners. This tumultuous sea can only be navigated in one boat, in order to arrive at eternal happiness. This the greatest enemies of the church have confessed, and I am about to prove it, as a warning to those incautious and malicious men, who would cast America out of this one ship, and leave her to be tossed in the tempestuous sea of every heresy. For power to address you with effect, and so a to produce fruit, aid me to implore the divine grace through the intercession of Mary, our beloved mother saluting her with the angel “Ave Maria, &c.”
The sermon is founded upon Matt. xiv. 28: “Lord, if it be thou, command that I come to thee upon the water.” Its style is declamatory, and its object is to prove that there is no salvation but through the See of Rome. In it he alludes to the wish of some to separate the Americas from the Pope; warns them against following the wicked example of Henry VIII. and Luther, the two great reformers, and quotes thirty confessions of learned Protestants, who acknowledge salvation may be found in the church of Rome: from whence he shrewdly argues, that since Protestants allow this fact, while Catholics assert salvation to be impossible out of their fold, it must be good policy in all to abide within the pale.
He then concludes thus: “O, priests of the Most High! now that you have heard from the mouth of your enemies, that most interesting of all acknowledgements, that there is salvation in the church of Rome, remain firmly seated in the ship of Peter, which can never sink; be united and obedient to the chair of Peter, which can never err; stand firm upon that Rock which can never be moved, the only anchor of our faith, and of our eternal safety. My brethren, venerable for your faith, piety, doctrine, veneration, and obedience to the vicar of Jesus Christ, and successor of St. Peter, announce these truths to your people, that they may be preserved from the flood of heresy which inundates the earth, in this only ark of Noah. Think upon, then, and preach these sayings, that following the voice of the only shepherd to whom God has given the keys of heaven, we may merit and obtain an entrance into the church triumphant, by that port whither the holy and secure ship of the apostle, ever living in his successors, is now bearing us. Amen.”
In the midst of controversies such as these, it is vain to look for many followers of the meek and lowly Jesus. The votaries both of superstition and infidelity make their voices to be heard in the streets, but true piety loves the shade, and seeks retirement. It may be that there are those who have not bowed the knee to this two-fold Baal; but if they exist, it is in the secrecy of the closet, and who they are must be left for the day of judgment to declare.
In the absence of better comforters, the lower orders repair at certain seasons, to worship those images which have become celebrated for their miraculous properties. These pilgrimages are often distant, and the journey arduous; but what will not superstition accomplish?
The church of Esquipulas is famous on account of its containing an image of the Saviour crucified, executed in ebony, in 1595, by Cataño, an eminent artist. Its fame for miracles was so great that crowds of pilgrims formerly came from different parts of Mexico, and on the fifteenth of January, its festival, 80,000 people have been known to assemble. At the present day, the number is greatly decreased, and not more than from 10 to 20,000 congregate.
At Viejo, about four leagues from Leon, is an image of the Virgin, which is visited in the month of February. This effigy is honoured, according to the account of the natives, as being the gift of the immaculate Virgin Sta Theresa. In short, every province has its wonder-working image, which, notwithstanding political changes, will continue to be worshipped until the universal diffusion of knowledge, and especially of Christian knowledge, dissipates the foolish vision, and scatters their deluded votaries.
During my stay I was enabled to procure the Bibles and Testaments of the British and Foreign Bible Society, and the publications of the Spanish Translation Society, to be exposed in one of the shops for sale; but from what I was able to observe, as well as from the number disposed of, there existed no demand for such books. Other means of throwing them into circulation are not practicable at present. What changes may take place in this respect, before long, it is impossible to say; but it is to be feared many years will elapse before any thing like a taste either for rational instruction or for the most valuable of all knowledge, will become general. A few extracts from a journal I kept while in Guatimala, will probably exhibit more vividly the true character of the rigid Catholics than any lengthened disquisition. These memoranda are therefore given in the same form in which they were noted down for my own future perusal, without any attention to order.
June 3. A young student for the church visited us. I offered him Bogue on the New Testament, and Paley's Evidences, to read. He looked at them, said they were very good, but laid them down.
June 4. Passed a convent of monks with M. who showed me the building, and asked my opinion of monastic institutions. I replied “let your light so shine before men, &c.” She said her father wished her when a girl to take the veil, but she declined, and thought it better to be useful in the world. On our return I showed her a copy of the Scriptures as the ground work of all our belief. She asked if it were our custom to read it morning and evening. I said “Yes,” “Very good,” she replied, but exhibited no wish to read it for herself.
June 8. Padre B. visited us this morning. He seems a very intelligent man, and is able to read and translate English with facility. This he has acquired solely by the assistance of an old French and English dictionary. His opinions are liberal, he regretted much the want of books in America, and attributed it chiefly to the inquisition, which had prevented the entry of any scientific works whatever. He asked me some questions about the Protestant religion. I showed him Doddridge's Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul, in Spanish, and offered to lend it to him, but he declined; he looked at a few pages and said it was very good. I showed him a Bible in Spanish, he only admired the binding. He wished to know the points of difference between the Anglican and Roman churches. I gave him an English Prayer-book, and pointed out to him the articles. When he came to those on purgatory, transubstantiation, and the adoration of the saints, he shrugged his shoulders, and observed opinions differed. I referred him to the Scriptures, but he declined controversy. From what I have seen of him I suppose him to be a man fully aware of the follies of the Romish church, but unwilling to avow sentiments which cut at the very root of priestly influence. He inquired about the mode of visiting the sick end dying, of administering the sacraments, &c. I explained fully, and informed him that the padres of the Anglican church did not profess to forgive sins, because they knew he only who could read the heart was able. June 9. Visited an auction of the goods, pictures and reliques of a deceased padre. The room was full of priests. One of them was bitterly complaining that no one would buy the reliques. These consisted of the gums of some of the saints, enclosed in silver, and a few little images made of the ashes of others. The poor priest declared the neglect of them to be scandalous, some one had observed they were of no use. The paintings were mostly of saints, badly coloured and sold very high. While we were here the archbishop arrived, he was received with the greatest respect, all the priests remaining uncovered in his presence.
June 10. Met with the Canonigo T. When informed that I was a Protestant, he eagerly entered into controversy. I declined setting up one religious establishment in opposition to another, and referred all to the Scriptures. He seems a well read and intelligent man, but better acquainted with controversy than the Bible; and did not at all appear to like the doctrine of the religion of Jesus being so simple, that “a wayfaring man though a fool cannot err therein.” The priests have been careful to leave the impression that Protestantism is necessarily careless, both of doctrine and practice.
June 15. X. called, and finding me alone ridiculed the approaching procession of Corpus as absurd. He is evidently an infidel: having never seen religion in a simpler and purer form, he considers it altogether a system of priestcraft; Visited his house the following day. The first book I saw was Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary. Numbers of French books, although prohibited, have been introduced here. French novels of the worst description are to he met with in abundance, most of these are printed cheaply, with plates wretchedly coloured. Subsequently he received of me Bogue's Essay, and a copy of the New Testament, both of which he promised to read with care and attention.
Visited M. a devoted Catholic old lady. We found her busily occupied in preparing an altar for the approaching procession of Corpus. The base was of wood, covered with looking glass, and hung round with cut glass in festoons, with glass candlesticks. Above this was the altar, on which was placed six massy silver candlesticks, and the whole covered with beautifully executed artificial Bowers, of which she had made three large boxes full. The expense of this was about 150 dollars. To my inquiry as to the benefit of these pageants, the reply was, “It is the custom of our church.” She expressed herself very anxious for my salvation, and assured me it could not be out of the pale of the Romish church. Two priests came in while we were talking. She told them who I was, said I had a good heart, but unhappily was not a Catholic. One of the priests, who appeared remarkably ignorant, asked if the English were Christians, and seemed much surprised when told they believed in the divinity of the Son of God and the influences of the Holy Spirit. He seemed to have an idea that Henry VIII. offended with the pope, had established in England a religion of his own, solely the offspring of his own brain; and could scarcely be persuaded that marriage in England was binding for life: this I found afterwards to be very generally discredited. He then proceeded to argue most vehemently in defence of the Pope and of general councils, the doctrine of the real presence, and the mediation of the saints, quoting doctors of theology with the greatest rapidity, and seemed much surprised I was not at once a convert, assuring me when I had heard all the proofs it was impossible to resist conviction.
June 18. The young student before referred to again called, and found me reading the Scriptures. I requested him to hear me, and correct my pronunciation, and by this means read to him the fifth and sixth chapters of St. Matthew. He was evidently pleased when I concluded, and showed no disposition to hear or read more. The second verse of the third chapter is translated “Haced Penitencia, and not as it ought to have been. arrepentios. To discover the impression left upon his mind I asked him if the two terms were synonymous. His reply was “No! Arrepentios signifies repentance in the heart. Haced Penitencia, the penance of the church, the mortification of the body.” I had heard it asserted before that no one could be misled by the latter expression, but it is evident that it will be used to support one of the most dangerous heresies of the church of Rome. He subsequently brought me a defence of popery, which he wished me to accept, and received from me in return the first volume of Milner's Ecclesiastical History, which has been translated into Spanish.
Sunday. On this day the shops are closed, and business suspended, but the markets are carried on as usual, and the theatre is open. The Sabbath is by no means sanctified. Three priests were playing at cards with G. in the morning, and in the intervals of the game, the propriety of allowing the theatre to be open was discussed. Some of them argued that in time of war, it was more suitable to think of God, to pray and to fast, than to enjoy the merriment of a comedy; but no one seemed to think his own employment unsuitable for the day. S. and three friends called to invite us to accompany them to the theatre. We declined, stating our reasons. They comforted themselves by the thought that if we kept the Sabbath more strictly than they, we did not attend to the various feasts which the Romish church sets apart as sacred. It seems out of their power to imagine that a religion of love can exist, and can only conceive of the Bible being read by Protestants, as a lahour for which they hope to receive heaven. T. who was present, appeared to know something of English customs, and explained the strictness with which the sabbath was observed as well as some other peculiarities, and ended by saying—Religious Protestants read the Bible every day, they believe only in the Bible, they regulate all their conduct exactly by the Bible. They are Biblists. The rest were silent and did not seem exactly to like this definition of Protestantism. Happy would it be for Protestants were it more generally a true one.
June 29: Called at the house of Donna Maria E. She has a sister in the convent of Sta Clara. She had just heard from her, stating how happy and contented she was in her solitude, and would on no account change her mode of life. That the world may be in the heart, although the eye is closed to it, they seem to have no conception.
July 12. Padre —— called in to-day. He asked several questions about Europe, displaying the grossest ignorance. He remarked, that the whole of Europe was not so large as Guatimala, with several other observations equally learned. Observing a pair of globes, he looked at them for some time, and astounded me by the discovery that the terrestrial represented Europe, and the celestial, America. How such men can have got ordination, seems astonishing.
July 17. N. has informed me very gravely today, that the question whether or no the Catholic religion shall be the religion of England, has been discussed in the commons, and lost only by a majority of four. From the same quarter, he has heard that in the next year an act will be passed in England, suppressing all the sects, and permitting only popery, and that the cabinets of Madrid and Vienna were treating in order to make Catholicism the universal religion. This information he has received from some priests, and all seem highly delighted with the thought. Yet this individual, on commercial subjects, is a very sensible man. Such remarks only prove the excessive ignorance that exists with respect to the nations of Europe.
July 22. A. sat with with me some time to-day, and blamed me for not confessing to the priest. I gave him my reasons for not doing it. He ended his defence of confession by saying: “But I ought not to talk with you on these subjects; it is sin. I have confessed to my priest a former conversation with you, and he tells me I ought not to enter into any controversy. The priests only are sufficiently learned for that purpose. He assures me it is a sin to refer to the Bible, without the notes of the church.” I said, can the priest answer for you to God, or have you to answer for yourself. His answer was melancholy, but striking: “I am a plain man of business, and have had no opportunities of study. He is my spiritual adviser; I have confidence in him, and if he leads me into error, my blood is upon his head.” Had his confessor been present, he would without doubt have willingly received the responsibility with a blindness of heart equal to those of old, who on a different occasion, exclaimed, “His blood be upon us and upon our children.”
July 26. This is St. James' day; all the shops are shut, and it is kept as a feast day. St. James is considered the patron saint of the Americas, and also of Gallicia in Spain. According to their account, he drove the Moors from Gallicia, appearing before the armies of the Christians on a white horse. All these things, with an infinity of fables which belong to the middle ages, are here firmly believed.
July 30. Visited the Cathedral this night, to hear vespers, previous to the celebration of the feast of San Ignatius De Loyola, the founder of the order of Jesuits. It is a neat building, and has a fine organ. On this evening an image of Loyola was placed upon an altar, beautifully decorated with artificial flowers, and to it, as well as to the empty pulpit, every passer-by bent the knee. I felt myself an intruder. I could not conform, and I fear only excited anger by non-conformity; indeed, there is a degree of danger, which it is wrong needlessly to incur.
August 6. The total absence of piety and spirituality in the forms of worship, is but too evident. The mere repetition of words, although with a smiling or laughing countenance, is considered sufficient, and in many instances a want of decency is observable which even policy would seem to forbid.
August 13. Day for the celebration of the transit of the Virgin. In the house of every rigid Catholic, an altar is erected in the sala or parlour, and recitations performed from three till four in the afternoon. The one raised in the house where we dwell, is a cushion, stuffed with wool, and covered with gold lace and spangles; on this, an image of the Virgin lying dead, is placed. She is clothed in gold and spangles, and her head-dress as well as her pillows, are of the best Flemish lace. From three to four prayers are recited to her before this image, and two waxen candles, in silver candlesticks, are kept continually burning. For fifteen nights successively this altar is to be illuminated, and in addition to the afternoon prayers, recitations are to be repeated before it every night, at eight o'clock. I asked how this could be reconciled with the honour due only to the “one Mediator appointed between God and man—the man Christ Jesus;” but could get no other reply than, “Ave Maria Santissima.” The Virgin, is here the chief object of adoration; if any thing be lost, she is solicited to restore it, or to direct where it may be found; if any be sick, she is implored to heal, and on every occasion is addressed as an appointed mediator. The tradition given respecting her transit, as it is termed, in a small book of prayers for the fifteen days, is, “That at the day of Pentecost, she was in the house with the apostles, and was the first who received the gift of the spirit; that a voice was heard from heaven, saying, 'Come, my dove, my friend, my spouse!' and that immediately her soul ascended to heaven, her body remaining on the earth, shining like the sun.” The apostles, it is added, buried it, and after three days, it was raised again, and exalted at the right hand of the Saviour, where she has since remained, to intercede with her Son, for all the faithful.
August 26. Violent thunderstorm with very vivid flashes of lightning; the electric fluid fell in six or seven different parts of the city, scorching the goods in some of the tiendas, but happily no lives were lost. At the time it happened we were in the house of Y. who lighted candles before an image of the Virgin, and began to recite prayers. As it continued, still doubting his security, he drew out a charm or waxen relique, which had been purchased at a high price, from Rome, and placed it upon the table, and kneeling before it felt himself at rest, and out of danger.
September 19. In conversing with the priests I have frequently found it difficult to restrain a smile at the eagerness with which they disclaim coercive methods of conversion. Conviction only is in their mouths, as if the Romish Church had never persecuted.
T. to-day defended the worship of images because they were representations of that which is holy. I read her the second commandment, and she at once denied that it was in the Catholic Bible. I fetched her one with the notes of the church, and then she believed, finding it explained away. This did not surprise me, as in all the catechisms for the children, and copies of the commandments, the second is always omitted, while to make up the number, the tenth is divided into two. The fourth is also always greatly altered, the feasts of the church being substituted for the Sabbath. Such abominable corruptions of Scripture does Papacy permit and sanction.
November 22. Padre —— in conversation today, when heated by some paragraphs he had seen in the newspaper, declared, that if he had the power he would at once extinguish the art of printing, and forbid education. To the instruction of the Indians he always objects, as calculated to make them ungovernable. That this is a general, although suppressed feeling, there can be no doubt, and it might be a question worth discussing, how far an exclusive Papal establishment can possibly exist without impairing the liberties of an infant republic, and whether the genius of the one is not directly opposed to the prosperity of the other. The Italian republics might be adduced as a proof of the practicability of their union; but at that time religious opinions did not clash, besides which, they were governed altogether by an aristocracy. Louisiana and Georgia may be said to be Catholic States, but they have no exclusive establishment.
November 24. Padre —— wishing to convert me, asked what penalty would be indicted upon me on my return to England, if I went to mass and conformed to the Catholic ceremonies here? I assured him, none; at which he expressed his surprise that I did not conform when in a Catholic country. I told him, religion was too important to change with climate, but he at once offered to answer to God for me, assuring me he possessed the power of pardoning sin, and that what he sealed on earth would be sealed in heaven; yet this man is totally destitute of every kind of religious feeling, and as ignorant as it is possible for man to be.
November 27. Visited M. to-day, who was very ill and thought herself dying. I have frequently been pleased to hear her speak on religious subjects, her doctrines always appearing more scriptural than the rest; yet I found her, in the fear of death perfectly miserable. In my presence she entreated the priest not to leave her for a moment, invoked all the celebrated images of the country, ordered candles to be placed before the images in the house, called loudly upon our Lord of Esquipulas, (a celebrated wonder-working image above 150 miles distant) and vowed if he would restore her, to make a pilgrimage to his shrine, and to give twenty dollars to the poor of Esquipulas. In all this, her thoughts never turned upon the sacrifice of Christ, or the merits of his blood, yet all these things she professes to believe, and I have heard her dwell upon them with pleasure in common conversation.
December 8. Gave to Padre C. a complete set of the Spanish tracts, published by the Religious Tract Society in London, which he received with the greatest pleasure. I could dispose of any number of these productions, but I am not sanguine as to the good which might be expected to result. It is not for us to decide where God will give or where he will withhold the blessing; but viewed as means, I conceive millions might be circulated without the conversion of a single soul from the legal and idolatrous system of Popery to entire faith in the one only Saviour. From the circulation of the Scriptures, (even as translated by Scio de San Miguel,) good may be anticipated, but it is future rather than present. Popery throws a thousand chains around its votaries, and until these are broken, and the mind emancipated, and the whole system exposed as Antichrist, no great hope can be entertained for their moral regeneration. The desire to possess a Bible, by no means implies a sense of its value, or a disposition to study it. In Spanish America it has been forbidden fruit, and therefore it is longed for. If it be read, it is with a mind wholly subject to the decisions of the Romish Church, but it more frequently happens, that curiosity being satisfied, it is left on the shelf neglected and forgotten. Considered ss seed which may one day produce an abundant harvest, its general circulation is however, highly important. These neglected copies may lie like so many trains of combustible matter among the rubbish by which they are surrounded, apparently inefficient and harmless, till some second Luther shall do in the new world, what his predecessor did in the old, boldly apply the torch, and kindle a flame at once purifying and enlightening, whose blaze shall never be extinguished.
December 10. Nothing can exceed the vapidness of the remarks the priests make on the vital truths of the Gospel; they speak of them as of subjects which have to be acknowledged, but may at the same time be despised with impunity.
December 20. Padre —— complaining of being obliged by his duties to read the service of the mass twice a day—he seems determined however to get through it as carelessly as possible, reading it aloud before us, and smiling and laughing at the same time. He had the assurance to insist at dinner to-day, that God had said in the Gospel that the clergy were the darlings of his eye, and that were they ever so wicked, the laity had nothing to do with it: this he positively asserted to be a literal quotation from Scripture, and his hearers humbly acknowledged the orthodoxy of his doctrine. January 6. Padre —— showed us a silver watch he had just received from some one for whom he was to say six masses. In all probability some poor widow has given it to him to say masses for the soul of her deceased husband, as in this way all the ornaments and plate of those who have not money, is generally disposed of. He laughing, declares it to be a good bargain, and vows he will not say one more than the stipulated number.
Such is Popery, and such are Popish priests in Spanish America. That amongst so numerous a body, there may be found many estimable for their virtues, is as certain as that a far more numerous catalogue might be made of those notorious for their vices. In reflecting on the degraded and corrupt state to which the church has arrived in these parts, the mind is forcibly struck with the striking parallel which might be drawn between its ministers and the scribes and Pharisees of old, as depicted by our Lord. Like them they have a master whom they reverence more than the words of God,—even their own vain traditions. Like them they shut up the kingdom of heaven against men, neither going in themselves nor suffering them that are entering to go in. Like them they devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayers. Like them they compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, they make him twofold more the child of hell than themselves. Like them they pay strict attention to the external ceremonial, but omit the weightier matters of the law. Like them they boast themselves in the magnificence of their temples, and forget that God is not worshipped in temples made with hands. Like them they clean the outside of the cup and platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Like them they build the tombs of the prophets and adore the memory of the saints, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, while they themselves are filling up the measure of the iniquities of their fathers.
But the parallel may be carried still further, against Jerusalem, the city of the God of Israel, the peculiar favourite of heaven, and even in the midst of all her corruptions, the only centre of true religion—against her, notwithstanding all her advantages, was the doom pronounced: “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate!” Let the page of history tell how awfully that doom has been fulfilled. Against Rome, the professed head of Christendom, who prides herself that her bishops are received in direct succession from the apostles; who adores the name of Christ, and glories in offering honour to his most devoted followers—against her is the sentence gone forth, “Double unto her double, according to her works. How much she hath glorified herself, and lived deliciously, so much trouble and sorrow give her; for her plagues shall come in one day—death, and mourning, and famine! and she shall be utterly burned with fire; for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her.” Truly may it be said of her, She is a “whited sepulchre, beautiful indeed outwardly, but inwardly full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness.”
- ↑ The author would by no means be understood to disapprove of the publications of this most important institution—so far as they go they are excellent. The species of Tracts which he thinks needful could not at present be put into circulation.